By Steve Sears
Sandwiched between the busy highways of Routes 46 and 80 sits 20 acres of greenery and activity for young and old.
As a facility goes, it offers an abundance.
Jim Walsh, superintendent of Parks and Forestry for the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, says the park is huge in the life of the area.
“It certainly is the busiest in Parsippany, and it’s probably one of the busiest in Morris County,” says Walsh. “The way its set up is along the lines of a county park in that its size – and with the new expansion property- is probably close to 20 acres now; and the way it’s laid out with all the athletic fields are under lights. And that includes two artificial turf fields, once soccer and football field, one multi-purpose field which is the new one, part of the new expansion we just put in, that encompasses lacrosse, field hockey, recreational Cricket and a softball\baseball field that’s all artificial turf.”
Walsh says he believes the park is at least 50 years old, which is roughly when the town took over the property. He recalls being five years old and playing there. The geographic location is excellent.
“It is certainly one of the most recognizable facilities in New Jersey,” says Walsh. “When you tell people you live in Parsippany, they say, ‘Oh, you mean by that big rec field up by Route 80?’ Yep, that’s it. The good part is it’s nestled in between two highways, and not right next to residential areas, so the facilities can be used, because almost everything is under lights, almost 24 hours a day without disturbing any residential areas.”
Walsh says groups such a Relay for Life use Smith Field Park around the clock as a host facility. Smith Field Park has been utilized for many events over the years, such as the Mount Hope softball yearly tournaments, the arrival of Smokey the Bear by helicopter for Arbor Day, the home field for the Budweiser Belles traveling softball team, concerts, annual soccer tourneys and many college level baseball games.
Smith Field Park is kept in fine shape by the Department of Parks and Forestry for the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
“We have at least two people there every day,” says Walsh. “Between the grass cutting and garbage pickup from the previous day and night, ball field maintenance, restroom cleaning, we usually have two people there throughout our busy season, every day. Besides the summertime sports, that’s home to our all-day playground which is attended by…there’s got to be hundreds of kids that go there every day.”
With regard to any historical aspect of the property, Walsh has been told that a majority of the property was donated by the Smith family. He believes the artificial field out front, which borders Route 46 East, was originally part of Saint Peter’s Parish, which sits across the road. When the roadway was widened, the parish donated the property to the town.
Robert Peluso, former Council vice president for the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, shares some historical information.
“In 1950, Smith Field North was ceremoniously opened,” says Peluso. “It was the first unit of a long-range development program planned for this 30-acre tract of land that was donated in 1947 by Lloyd W. Smith who was a prominent benefactor of the town. Although Smith Field South was never developed due to it being cut-off by the Route 80 expansion, the Township of Parsippany under the leadership of council members and its fine employees was able to continue the progress of expansion and revitalization in 2015/2016. The township continues to see many requests for additional sports and we need to do more. I am an advocate to add a dedicated professional cricket field though grants and private donations which will support community and economic development. As former council vice president, I voted to approve the Smith Field Park expansion project and I feel that it’s always an honor working with good coaches and neighbors to build fine parks and programs for our families.”
The referred-to expansion, a two phase project which is in the latter, has significantly improved the park.
Walsh provides detail, “When you go and do an expansion, it’s not like you have a clean canvas. You have a facility that has been there many, many years, so you have to incorporate all the utilities and existing facilities to meld together with what you want to put in there. So, it took us a very long time to do the expansion plan. It was supposed to be all done at once, but once the numbers came in, it was astronomical. It was over $7 million. So, the previous administration and I looked to do something we could afford to get it going. But, when you’re doing that, you have to be cognizant of what’s coming down the road. So, the plans were pretty much done to do everything, but then we broke it up into phases.”
Phase one was finished in 2016, which included the multi-purpose field, redoing the basketball and tennis courts, and the addition of a new restroom and fieldhouse for the existing turf field, and new utilities like upgraded electric. Phase two plans are now being completed, and that part of the expansion will be undertaken within the next year.
“We will relocate the basketball courts to the northeast side of the property, and take the handball courts and move them there, too, so you’ll have new handball, new basketball and new tennis courts,” says Walsh.
Also planned is an additional restroom, two large play structures for two to five year olds, and five to 12 year olds, a new picnic pavilion, and a new maintenance facility for Walsh’s crew.
“Then, the biggest thing is the parking,” says Walsh. “The parking right now is atrocious at Smith Field Park. Where the basketball and tennis courts are now, that’s going to be additional parking tied into the parking lot that’s adjacent to the Empire Diner.”
Walsh also mentions another special gem to the Smith Field Park expansion.
“Right now, you can walk around Smith Field Park, but we’re looking to add some walking trails to kind of combine all the existing walkways, so that while somebody’s child is playing softball, baseball or whatever, the parents can walk and take maybe the littler ones that can’t play sports around the facility,” shares Walsh. “You try to tie that all in so that there’s a lot of things for many different people to do. Because of its location it’s not necessarily a neighborhood park so the parents have to drive there, so why not give them something to do with the younger ones while the older ones are doing their sports. And if you’d just like to go there and walk safely and not get hit by a car that would be a place to go.”
There’s something for everybody, which is what makes Smith Field Park special.
“That,” says Walsh, “is what we’re trying to achieve, and with this second phase we will, and everything will be updated and new.”